AKRON-Compared to high performance, flag-brand radials, specialty tires typically are low priced and slow moving. Why, then, would independent dealers-faced with the fierce price competition and rapid inventory turns of warehouse clubs and mass marketers-be interested in servicing specialty markets?
For a number of reasons, not the least of which is high profit margins, according to several U.S. private brand marketers who focus their efforts on niche markets.
Take, for instance, Long Beach, Calif.-based Greenball Corp., which specializes in high-speed trailer and lawn-and-garden tires. A dealer can order one of Greenball's lawn tractor tires for under $15, including shipping, according to a company sales representative.
That tire can then command a price upwards of $30 in a dealership, should a customer need one after running over a sprinkler halfway through cutting the front lawn, the representative said.
More important than the profit, however, is the opportunity for future tire sales.
When customers find they need a specialty tire, many first turn to their local independent dealer. If that dealer is able to install the tire in a reasonable amount of time for a fair price, chances are they will return when their cars need new sets of tires, private brand officials said.
And what rings true for the boat trailer and garden tractor owner, resonates even louder through the ever-increasing ranks of classic car enthusiasts, according to Jim Hildebrand, export manager for Coker Tire Co. Inc.
Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Coker Tire markets BFGoodrich-, Michelin- and Firestone-brand antique tires and its own Coker and Commander lines to automotive enthusiasts throughout the world.
``These guys are going to take care of their cars. It's their baby,'' Mr. Hildebrand said, describing Coker Tire's typical customer. ``If you can sell them a tire for their antique, they'll come back with the car they drive everyday.''
To that end, Coker has begun providing store-front signs announcing that antique tires are sold at that dealership. The company also has developed a classic tire display stand-featuring a 19-inch Firestone tire and rim-for dealerships.
None of the antique tire marketers interviewed by TIRE BUSINESS were willing to estimate the size of the classic automotive market, but all agreed it has grown steadily during the past 20 years.
``It used to be a hobby for the affluent,'' said Harvey Nauss Jr., president of Universal Tire Co., which also markets classic tires for automotive enthusiasts. ``Today, more people are restoring the cars they drove in high school.''
Those enthusiasts, Mr. Nauss said, are not the type of customers who buy tires on price. ``They want things done right,'' he said.
Lancaster, Pa.-based Universal Tire offers its own Universal- and Lester-brand classic tires-manufactured by Dennman Tire Corp. and Specialty Tires of America Inc.-along with Dunlop, Firestone and other brands.
Many specialty marketers ship to independents within a day of receiving an order, keeping dealers from having to stock slow-moving inventory.
But it also gives dealers the speed many customers demand when ordering lawn-and-garden, vintage and other specialty tires.
Although many independent dealers are reluctant to sell specialty tires, private brand marketers agreed that the system to adequately supply those outlets with their tires already is in place.
``Many dealers don't want to deal with'' ordering vintage tires, Mr. Hildebrand said. ``But why send them to your competitor?''